Helping Manchester's Poor Make It to University

"Reachout!" Teams Up University Volunteers and Young Professionals

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MANCHESTER, England, JUNE 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A group of university students and young professionals has been carrying out an education program for youths in one of the poorest areas of this city.



Moss Side and Hulme is among Manchester's most notorious areas. Located south of the commercial heart of the city, it has one of the highest rates of illegal drug trafficking in the United Kingdom.

It has a high percentage of Afro-Caribbean peoples, a consequence of the immigration since the 1950s, and suffers from high rates of unemployment and crime.

In 1994, a group from Greygarth Hall, a student residence, and some friends, decided to offer noncompulsory education to the area's young people, according to Opus Dei's Internet Information Office. The program, ReachOut!, aims to motivate the youths in their studies.

Until last year, the activities were held in youth centers of Moss Side and Hulme. In late 2002, thanks to state aid, the program was started in schools and also in Wythenshawe, another high-crime, high-unemployment area.

ReachOut! works with children aged 8 to 14 and ultimately aims to help them to attend university.

According to Mukhtar Khares, official of the Manchester Town Council, it is an ambitious goal, as "in the neighborhood it is thought that to go to university is something usually done by people who are not from Moss Side or Hulme. (...) There was a real lack of educational support and ReachOut! has taken it where it was most needed."

ReachOut! was inspired by the teachings of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, who promoted initiatives in favor of the neediest. The program has, as advisers, students of various religions or of no religion. The emphasis is on these students being able to offer a positive example to youths who rarely meet people who are able to help.

ReachOut! offers an intensive, two- to three-week summer program dedicated to the study of mathematics, language and sciences. The program also includes sports and other recreational activities.

The project also offers a semester program, in which students attend neighborhood youth centers for several hours a week to help children individually or in small groups in key subjects of their studies.

This year a tutorial program was started in collaboration with local schools. The program is now being implemented in three schools and two youth centers. More than 150 young people study weekly in one of these programs, with the help of more than 60 volunteers from Manchester's four universities.

"We want to reach 1,000 young people through 100 students," explained John O'Donnell, a member of the project's executive team. "This summer work will begin in Glasgow and London, and we are planning to have more than 100 volunteers, at least in Manchester, for the next course," he concluded.

More information is at www.reachoutuk.org and www.opusdei.org.